“No goose, no gander”

This was the slogan on this airline advertisement in the late 1950s:

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8187/8083555182_112b4a5bdd_o.jpg

The small print may tell you that it was issued by El Al. To understand the story behind this, we must first identify the goose and the gander.

A map of the North Atlantic may make things clearer:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@43.9785764,-32.7453284,4z

It shows you the straight-line routes from, say New York to London and Paris. Using the great circle formulae and putting in the coordinates of JFK, LHR and CDG we get:

New York to London: 3451 miles (all miles are statute miles here,not nautical miles).

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=JFK-LHR

New York to Paris: 3635 miles

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=JFK-CDG

The first flight from New York to Paris (not exactly matching JFK and CDG) was made by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, thus ushering in the modern air age as many textbooks may say. But it was not the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. That was back in 1919 by Alcock and Brown with a converted WW1 bomber on a shorter route, from St John’s, Newfoundland (then a British colony and not part of Canada) to a bog near Clifden, Ireland (which was still in the UK at that time). Taking the coordinates we get 1886 miles, considerably less than the more “useful” New York to London route. A rough sketch of this route (with the nearest airport at Galway as the eastern terminus) is:

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=YYT-GWY

The point where they landed in the bog is still marked, while there is an Alcock and Brown Hotel in Clifden.

It followed, therefore that if you wanted to travel between North America and Europe and your airliners had limited range, you would have to have stops in Newfoundland or western Ireland, preferably both so that you could travel to more interesting places such as New York, Toronto, London and Paris.

Thus arose the huge airport at Gander, Newfoundland. A subsidiary airport was also built at Goose Bay in Labrador, (on the mainland of Newfoundland). Similarly, a large airport came up at the practically unknown town of Shannon in the Republic of Ireland. This was close to the town of Limerick, though researchers have failed to prove conclusively that limericks were invented there.

Both Gander and Goose Bay can be seen here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Goose+Bay+Airport/@50.78814,-55.0941876,6z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x4c7b7a25e4bf9d67:0xbbcbc870ca9fe1dd

And Shannon:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Shannon+Airport/@53.1810897,-8.5608469,8z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x485b41dad0f8b40b:0x6bf3c305b024f8dc

These airports in Newfoundland were intensively used by the Allies during World War 2. After the war got over, trans-Atlantic flights began with an invariable stop at Gander for refueling. When weather there grew too bad, the planes were diverted to Goose Bay.

By the late 1950s, the Britannia turboprops were finally able to manage New York-London without refueling at Gander. Even the BOAC’s Comet 4s had to stop at Gander.

So El Al could proudly announce direct Britannia flights with “No Goose, No Gander”. Ironically the Britannia itself was soon superseded by faster jets such as the Boeing 707.

History did not deal kindly with Gander and Goose Bay airports when they lost their primacy. They stagger along with limited Canadian internal flights, although the US military continues to use Gander. They also used to survive on the Havana-Moscow flights until the collapse of the Soviet Union. These flights became a bit of a pain for the Canadians as numerous frustrated Cubans and Soviets used to seek asylum there. Finally they passed a rule that anyone traveling on a flight which stopped at Gander had to have a Canadian visa.

However, even in 2017 Goose Bay had its day when an Air France A380 made an emergency landing there after an engine exploded on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles:

https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/passengers-describe-seeing-fireball-as-engine-on-air-france-flight-disintegrates-over-atlantic-ocean/ar-AAsH24s?li=AAggbRN&ocid=mailsignout

Shannon fared somewhat better and still has a number of flights to various parts of Europe as well as the US. Shannon and Dublin (joined recently by Abu Dhabi) are  the few places outside the Americas where the US immigration and customs processes passengers before they leave for the US. There is even an all-business class flight of British Airways which takes off with an Airbus A318 from the tiny airport at London City, stops at Shannon for refueling and processing of passengers, and then goes straight to NYC where the passengers can get off and be on their way without any other formalities. This is numbered BA 001 and is marketed as one of BA’s most elite services:

http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/travel-classes/business/club-world-london-city

More interesting facts about geese and ganders here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/the-goose-in-popular-culture/

A small town with a big attitude

Biggar is a small town with a population of a little over 2000. It lies in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, and is one of the few small towns in Western Canada which still have a passenger train service (only thrice a week in both directions, but you can still board the train directly to Vancouver or Toronto).

The citizens of every small town want their place to be famous. This they achieved with this slogan:

Biggar

As Wikipedia says: “The town is known for its slogan “New York is big, but this is Biggar.” It was created in 1914 by a survey crew who painted it onto a town sign as a drunken prank. According to The Biggar Museum and Gallery, the graffiti remained unchanged until 1954 when the slogan was officially adopted.”

This is what Biggar railway station looks like:

Biggar RS pic

It is indeed a heritage station, but is so dilapidated that passengers have to wait elsewhere. This is what the train operator Via Rail has to say about it:

Biggar RS

This implies it is an unstaffed station where you can check in your baggage only if you go to the baggage car yourself. And the trains stop only on request-perhaps you have to flag them down yourself.

Armchair travellers can see below the schedules for the “Canadian”, probably the longest passenger train journey in North America. Its only real rival from the US was the Sunset Limited which ran for a few years between Los Angeles and Miami. However, Hurricane Katrina saw it restored to its original eastern terminus at New Orleans. Amtrak presently considers the route east of New Orleans to be suspended indefinitely.

TV sched VT sched

So much for the place which is Biggar than New York. There are other odd places to visit including Jhumritilaiya and Timbuctoo in the days to come.

Documentaries on Indian aviation accidents

If you are reading this, you would be aware of the long-running series “Air Crash Investigation” (also known as “Mayday”). Many episodes have made their way to Youtube. Indian aviation accidents have been given due coverage there. The 1996 mid-air collision is covered here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8576jHv_Zs Its content does seem to accurately reflect the causes of the crash.  It is often said that the poor knowledge of English of the Kazakh crew was the main reason for the crash, though this episode points out that the general unprofessional attitude of the crew was of more significance.

Then there is the Air-India sabotage of 1985. This had wide ramifications outside India as the sabotage was committed by people of Indian origin living in Canada-and most of the victims were also of the same category. ACI has covered it here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x18uns1_mayday-s05e07-air-india-explosive-evidence-explosive-evidence_shortfilms This is again a typical ACI documentary which describes how the investigation proceeded but does not say much about the conspiracy. For that we have to go to a documentary by the well known Canadian director Stella Gunnarson.

This was released in 2008 and does contain a good deal of information about the conspiracy and the people behind it. It also features interviews with relatives of the victims. Sadly, many of the perpetrators were not punished though at least one died under mysterious circumstances.The film’s website is worth a look before you watch it: http://airindia182.com/ This documentary has been uploaded by several places on Youtube, such as this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlzY5gQExbY It does tell you everything you need to know about the crash and events surrounding it. There are several books about this disaster which I will cover later. Other Indian disasters have not rated a book on their own, except one on another long-forgotten sabotage incident in 1955 which led to several fatalities.

There is also a short National Geographic documentary on air traffic control in India: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vyb0Sr_dNFA Essentially this is a PR job to show how efficient Indian ATCs are, but it is worth watching-particularly as inadequacies in ATC regulations and facilities at Delhi were among the main contributory factors in the 1996 mid-air collision. If you study that accident in detail, you will wonder how there were not many more disasters in that area. Probably the Indian controllers were good at their job, but cockpit crews must have been pretty careful around Delhi. Have pity on the crew of the Saudia plane, as they did not do anything wrong.